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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


Rokeby and the Valley of the Greta

By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)

(From Rokeby)

STERN Bertram shunned the nearer way,

Through Rokeby’s park and chase that lay,

And, skirting high the valley’s ridge,

They crossed by Greta’s ancient bridge;

Descending where her waters wind

Free for a space and unconfined,

As ’scaped from Brignall’s dark-wood glen,

She seeks wild Mortham’s deeper den.

There, as his eye glanced o’er the mound,

Raised by that Legion long renowned,

Whose votive shrine asserts their claim,

Of pious, faithful, conquering fame,

“Stern sons of war!” sad Wilfrid sighed,

“Behold the boast of Roman pride!

What now of all your toils are known?

A grassy trench, a broken stone!”—

This to himself; for moral strain

To Bertram were addressed in vain.

Of different mood, a deeper sigh

Awoke, when Rokeby’s turrets high

Were northward in the dawning seen

To rear them o’er the thicket green.

O then, though Spenser’s self had strayed

Beside him through the lovely glade,

Lending his rich luxuriant glow

Of fancy, all its charms to show,

Pointing the stream rejoicing free,

As captive set at liberty,

Flashing her sparkling waves abroad,

And clamoring joyful on her road;

Pointing where, up the sunny banks,

The trees retire in scattered ranks,

Save where, advanced before the rest,

On knoll or hillock rears his crest,

Lonely and huge, the giant oak,

As champions, when their band is broke,

Stand forth to guard the rearward post,

The bulwark of the scattered host,—

All this, and more, might Spenser say,

Yet waste in vain his magic lay,

While Wilfrid eyed the distant tower,

Whose lattice lights Matilda’s bower.

The open vale is soon passed o’er,

Rokeby, though nigh, is seen no more;

Sinking mid Greta’s thickets deep,

A wild and darker course they keep,

A stern and lone, yet lovely road,

As e’er the foot of minstrel trode!

Broad shadows o’er their passage fell,

Deeper and narrower grew the dell;

It seemed some mountain, rent and riven,

A channel for the stream had given,

So high the cliffs of limestone gray

Hung beetling o’er the torrent’s way,

Yielding, along their rugged base,

A flinty footpath’s niggard space,

Where he who winds ’twixt rock and wave

May hear the headlong torrent rave,

And like a steed in frantic fit,

That flings the froth from curb and bit,

May view her chafe her waves to spray

O’er every rock that bars her way,

Till foam-globes on her eddies ride,

Thick as the schemes of human pride

That down life’s current drive amain,

As frail, as frothy, and as vain!

The cliffs that rear their haughty head

High o’er the river’s darksome bed

Were now all naked, wild, and gray,

Now waving all with greenwood spray;

Here trees to every crevice clung,

And o’er the dell their branches hung;

And there all splintered and uneven,

The shivered rocks ascend to heaven;

Oft, too, the ivy swathed their breast,

And wreathed its garland round their crest,

Or from the spires bade loosely flare

Its tendrils in the middle air.

As pennons wont to wave of old

O’er the high feast of baron bold,

When revelled loud the feudal rout,

And the arched halls returned their shout;

Such and more wild is Greta’s roar,

And such the echoes from her shore;

And so the ivied banners gleam,

Waved wildly o’er the brawling stream.

Now from the stream the rocks recede,

But leave between no sunny mead,

No, nor the spot of pebbly sand,

Oft found by such a mountain strand;

Forming such warm and dry retreat,

As fancy deems the lonely seat,

Where hermit, wandering from his cell,

His rosary might love to tell.

But here, ’twixt rock and river, grew

A dismal grove of sable yew,

With whose sad tints were mingled seen

The blighted fir’s sepulchral green.

Seemed that the trees their shadows cast

The earth that nourished them to blast;

For never knew that swarthy grove

The verdant hue that fairies love;

Nor wilding green, nor woodland flower,

Arose within its baleful bower:

The dank and sable earth receives

Its only carpet from the leaves,

That, from the withering branches cast,

Bestrewed the ground with every blast.

Though now the sun was o’er the hill,

In this dark spot ’t was twilight still,

Save that on Greta’s farther side

Some straggling beams through copsewood glide;

And wild and savage contrast made

That dingle’s deep and funeral shade

With the bright tints of early day,

Which, glimmering through the ivy spray,

On the opposing summit lay.